The man, wearing a black jacket and baggy pants and carrying a backpack, said he had “nothing to declare” when he crossed the busy border checkpoint from Hong Kong into the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

A search revealed he was indeed carrying contraband. In fact, 104 scaly pieces of contraband. That’s how many live snakes were in his pants, China Customs officials said.

A video shared by the agency showed the man walking assertively through the “nothing to declare” line at the Futian crossing, one of the world’s busiest land ports.

He was pulled aside for further inspection – the Customs office didn’t say what aroused suspicion or whether it was random luck – and the search revealed that his pant pockets contained six canvas drawstring bags, sealed with tape.

“When opened, each bag was found to contain multiple living snakes, brightly colored and in different shapes and sizes,” according to a statement from the Customs office.

The video showed two officers examining the red, pink and black snakes, which were writhing in plastic bags by the time of their performance for the video.

This handout photo taken and released by the Shenzhen Customs on July 9, 2024 shows confiscated smuggled snakes lying inside a plastic bag at the Shenzhen Customs office in Shenzhen. A man has been caught trying to smuggle over 100 live snakes into mainland China by cramming them into his trousers, according to the country's customs authority. (Photo by Handout / Shenzhen Customs Release / AFP)
This handout photo taken and released by the Shenzhen Customs on July 9, 2024 shows confiscated smuggled snakes lying inside a plastic bag at the Shenzhen Customs office in Shenzhen.Photo by HANDOUT /Shenzhen Customs Release/AFP via

All five species identified inside – milk, corn, Texas rat, western hognose and gopher snakes – are nonvenomous, endemic to North America and frequently found in the exotic pet trade in China, where they risk becoming an invasive species.

“Those who violate the regulations will be … held accountable by law,” Customs authorities said. Smugglers of live animals in China face a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (a little less than $7,000), and severe violations can lead to criminal charges.

The Customs agency did not reveal the man’s nationality or what happened to him next, and the office in Shenzhen could not be reached for comment.

Futian is no strangers to “walking zoo” travellers. In September, a woman was found carrying 15 live snakes, four Amazonian giant centipedes – the largest centipede species in the world – and a blue-tongued skink in her pant pockets and hoodie. A few months earlier, a woman was caught hiding five snakes in her tank top.

Beijing banned the poaching, transport and trade of wild animals in 2020, the year that the coronavirus pandemic was said to have begun at a market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold. Biosecurity and disease control laws forbid people from importing, abandoning or releasing nonnative species without permission.

In 2023, China Customs launched a three-year campaign to crack down on the smuggling and mailing of wild animals and says it intercepted 1,186 nonnative species, including 44,000 exotic pets, in a year.

Some wild animals such as alligator gar – a torpedo-shaped freshwater fish with razor-sharp teeth – have not been included in official lists of invasive species and still find ways into the country as pets. The sightings of one alligator gar made national headlines in 2022 after a city drained an entire lake in a multiday effort to capture it.